Karaoke Culture by Dubravka Ugresic

For the title essay of Dubravka Ugresic‘s rewarding Karaoke Culture the author expands commonplace usage of “karaoke” (Japanese for “empty orchestra”) to embrace what Andrew Keen termed “the cult of the amateur”.

Today people are more interested in flight from themselves than discovering their authentic self. The self has become boring, and belongs to a different culture. The possibilities of transformation, teleportation, and metamorphosis hold far more promise than digging in the dirt of the self. The culture of narcissism has mutated into karaoke culture or the latter is simply a consequence of the former.

The internet, Ugresic argues, is the linchpin of a cultural transformation putting the creation of art and culture into the hands of amateurs, who are both creators and consumers of the material they appropriate, remake and recycle. Ugresic cites Alan Kirby’s argument and its adoption of the term “pseudo-modernism”.

Postmodernism conceived of contemporary culture as a spectacle before which the individual sat powerless, and within which questions of the real were problematised. It therefore emphasised the television or the cinema screen. Its successor, which I will call pseudo-modernism, makes the individual’s action the necessary condition of the cultural product.

Ugresic may wistfully recall the time before this age of karaoke, but recognises its irrevocability.

Beyond the title essay of  one hundred and four pages in my edition, there are more than twenty further essays, some of a few pages, some extended. Ugresic writes with fervour and anger, but also with a great eye for absurdity. Beside the essays that speak of the heartache of exile and disappearance of motherland, are essays on the irrationality of hotel minibars.

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